Parenting: Training a Child to Question

Sooner or later the average child comes to feel that, the fewer questions he asks, the more of a man he will be; and so he represses his impulse to inquire into the nature and purpose and meaning of that which newly interests him; until, perhaps, he is no longer curious concerning that which he does not understand, or is hopeless of any satisfaction being given to him concerning the many problems which perplex his wondering mind.
-H Clay Trumbull

Training a child to question

There is a certain humility in asking questions, a certain state of childlike vulnerability. I have come to believe these traits help one in accumulating knowledge and power. It is a sad state when a body would rather live ignorantly in a vain attempt to maintain their false reputation as all knowing.

Mr. Trumbull believes all children are born questioners, that a parent only need train them in how to be a questioner so that the parent is not tempted to discourage their questions.  

So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, And apply thine heart to understanding; Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, And liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, And searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, And find the knowledge of God. -Proverbs 2:2–5

Mr Trumbull believes that the “beginning of all knowledge is a question” and because of this the parent need resist the temptation to repress the child as a questioner. He admits that if a parent were to answer every question a child asks, that may be all they ever do. In times it seems as though the answering of ten questions leads to fifty more, and so therein lies the temptation to repress the little questioner. His hint on this matter is that questions, as every privilege, are to be under the control of reasonable limits. In this case two; the timing and direction of questions, rather than the extent of the questioning.

On timing: a child ought not to interrupt someone to ask a question and also it may not be appropriate for him to question his parents in the company of guests. So there is a proper and improper time to ask a question that the child needs to be trained in.

On direction: a child ought not question his mother’s guest on how old she is or how she got that thing on her arm. Nor should a child question to no end or in other words ask silly questions. If these silly questions come about Mr. Trumbull suggests the child be reminded of their responsibility to seek knowledge and that questions be under control. That they should use the power of questions to gain knowledge and to respect others time in the process.  Referring to others as stores of knowledge that are there to help them but that may also be closed up to them at times or if the stores feel misused.

He believes within these limits the privilege of questioning should be encouraged. A couple closing hints from Mr. Trumbull. If a child asks a question that the parent does not know the answer to, it is far better to simply humbly say “I do not know” than to let your pride present a different answer. “Why is the sky blue?”, asks the child. “I do not know.” answers the parent, rather than “because that’s God’s favorite color.” or “It has to do with something beyond you.” Which leads to Mr. Trumbull’s next hint.

If a child asks a complex question answer with a simple truth for often a bit of knowledge is all they are after and just what they need. “Why does the sun come through these windows in the morning and those in the evening?” the child asks. The parent may respond, “Why because God made the sun to rise in the east and set in the west my dear.”

-A takeaway from Hints on Child Training by H Clay Trumbull

As always good books, takeaways, stories, and/or lessons learned on the subject are most appreciated.